Project Summary

The North Carolina Arboretum spans 434 acres, including public gardens, hiking and biking trails, and exhibits, just outside of Asheville and amid the Southern Appalachian Mountains. Established in 1986, The North Carolina Arboretum has dedicated the past thirty years to “cultivating connections” between people and plants. 

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The mission of the Arboretum is to demonstrate, interpret and celebrate the importance of plants to the economy, culture and enjoyment. Based on the landscape design created but never executed by Frederick Law Olmsted for an arboretum at the nearby Biltmore Estate, The North Carolina Arboretum is closely aligned with Olmsted’s four key design criteria: environment, economics, aesthetics and social factors. 

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url: www.ncarboretum.org    |    completed: January 13, 2016

Challenge

As a public garden with extensive offerings for all age and interest groups, The North Carolina Arboretum had a lot of information that they needed to share with site visitors. Initial conversations with the team at the Arboretum unveiled that key information was buried on the site, and difficult to find. It was important to create a simplified site structure that kept important details front and center without diminishing the design. It was also of utmost importance to include a calendar feature that was easily navigable and able to be filtered, allowing visitors to easily discover exhibits, classes, and events best suited to their interests. With a variety of audiences grouped into two key categories – visitors and stakeholders – it was vital the site not only be simplified and easily navigable, but also needed to appeal to both audiences.

Solution

The solution for the Arboretum came though a process of analytic research and client feedback through which we created a simplified sitemap and structure that properly showcased the many offerings of the Arboretum, without overwhelming site visitors. We also demonstrated how all the great work being done by the Arboretum could be featured by displaying key metrics on the homepage. Cuberis also solved the problem of handling text heavy pages, without compromising richness of design, by combining our component based content system with a photographically rich page header design.

Results

The final website is an elegant combination of organization and information that features attractive design and rich photography. The North Carolina Arboretum website features an integrated calendar system allowing for events to added, detailed, categorized, and filtered easily–with a toggle for both calendar and list views.

The site looks just as good, and functions just as completely in its fully responsive mobile version. The Arboretum is now able to easily manage their website making it a key tool for serving and informing all their visitors.

Project Highlights

Events Calendar Integration

Our client definitely wanted a grid-based calendar. Understanding that many visitors, members, and volunteers felt most comfortable with this traditional view we developed a solution that allows visitors to toggle between a grid and a list view. Voila! The best of both worlds—and a hard-working system at that. Behind the scene administrators can add recurring events and feature special events. Events can be filtered by category and date. The calendar is a snapshot of a very busy place.

Not only does the calendar look great on desktop and mobile devices, it is also very fast. Events are loaded in via an AJAX request to the server rather than refreshing pages so users are never directed away. This creates a seamless, more enjoyable browsing experience.

Simplifying Existing Sitemap

The client’s previous site contained many pages some nested multiple levels deep. During our discovery process, the client expressed a desire to simplify the site structure in order to make it easier for visitors to find their content. Through information architecture, we were able to give the Arboretum a simplified page structure and streamlined navigation menu. Now, visitors are able to find the content they need quickly and efficiently.

Components

To help the arboretum team develop both visually- and content-rich pages we utilized a components-based approach. Each component is available to the administrator with an easy to use drag-and-drop interface. Interior pages are built by combining elements that best highlight the page content. Components may also be used to cross-pollinate the site by directing visitors to related content or encouraging personal interaction such as attending an event. We have put powerful tools with tremendous flexibility at their fingertips.

Varying Audiences

Increasing engagement for the arboretum meant far more than increasing visitors. A second key group of stakeholders includes donors, the University system, and state legislatures. These individuals and groups are especially interested in how the arboretum serves the interests of the state. Through the design process we targeted many ways that we could highlight civic and business partnerships, volunteerism, and revenue-generating activities.

  • The home page includes a “by the numbers” hub, which features an editable information graphic, bringing engagement data front-and-center.
  • Events or subjects that are of special interest to this audience can be highlighted through in-depth stories in the blog. These posts can be promoted on the home page as feature stories.

Built with performance in mind

Typically when a site is very image heavy, performance suffers. In order to address this, the site was built in such a way to display images only after they have been fully loaded. Visitors are presented with content first, then the image fades in after a few seconds for a seamless loading effect.
We also make full use of responsive imagery in order to display appropriately sized images for the actual screen size of your device.
We have also integrated page caching technology to improve performance and deliver pages to users with lightning speed.

Blackbaud/Altru Integration

The North Carolina Arboretum website calendar system also integrates with their Altru ticketing and registration platform. Calendar feeds import ticked events into their website calendar, and the Altru pages are skinned to reflect the main site’s design.

Before & After

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before screenshot
after screenshot

Praise

Cuberis is top notch when it comes to web design and development! Being a multi-faceted institution that offers a wide variety of programs and activities, Cuberis did a wonderful job of guiding us to identify key elements of our organization and creating a user-friendly site that quickly informs visitors about The North Carolina Arboretum and our many offerings. From concept to launch, the entire process was very well-thought out. The design team was great in pulling out the beauty of the Arboretum and showcasing it through our new site. Our robust calendar will be a great tool to let visitors know about all the many happenings at the Arboretum and their suggestion of using rich imagery will certainly have folks wanting to come out and see the property for themselves! We couldn’t have asked for a better process and end product.

Whitney Smith, Marketing & Public Relations Manager
The North Carolina Arboretum

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